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Sex, Politics, and Political Economy

How – and why – do we connect two of the dominant preoccupations of current social science and popular debate, namely globalization and the preoccupation with sexuality? Or, more concretely, is the increasing globalization of the world – understood as both “the compression of the world and the intensification of consciousness of the world as a whole”1 – affecting the ways in which sexuality is understood, experienced, and regulated?

It is the argument of this book that changes in our understandings of and attitudes to sexuality are both affected by and reflect the larger changes of globalization. Moreover, as with globalization itself, the changes are simultaneously leading to greater homogeneity and greater inequality. As all but insignificant pockets of the world’s peoples are brought within the scope of global capitalism, a consumer culture is developing which cuts across borders and cultures, and is universalized through advertising, mass media, and the enormous flows of capital and people in the contemporary world. Increasingly sexuality becomes a terrain on which are fought out bitter disputes around the impact of global capital and ideas.

Gilbert Herdt has written of the long neglect of sexuality in the social sciences at large: “Until quite recently, the social sciences remained preoccupied with gender but had scarcely begun to conceptualize desire, notwithstanding the prodding of Foucault.”2 His point remains valid, even if we need to recognize that often sex has relatively little to do with desire. It is of course true that in recent years certain sorts of studies of sexuality, often coded in the arcane language of literary and cultural theory, have become academically fashionable. It is also true that these studies are largely ignored in the burgeoning literature on globalization written by political scientists and economists. Equally those who do concern themselves with questions of sexuality and gender often ignore questions of material and institutional power. Alison Murray came closer to the truth when she warned that “[t]he academy has progressed from women’s studies to gender to sexuality, getting closer to the cunt of the matter while continuing to marginalise class, race and alternative subject-voices,”3 a view echoed in Nancy Fraser’s concerns that contemporary “difference” feminism ignores political economy.4 A good example, as we shall see, is the paucity of material analyzing pornography and prostitution as industries rather than as problems of morality.

Sex is framed by social, cultural, political, and economic factors – and remains a powerful imperative resistant to all of these. Perhaps this explains the resistance to theories of social constructionism, which its critics see as attempts to tame something which survives all human attempts at control.5 The tension is summed up in a passage from a piece Michael Ignatieff wrote about the bathhouses of Budapest, a legacy of Turkish occupation:6 “The Kiraly isn’t a gay bathhouse: the pleasure of the place consists precisely in its blurring of sexual boundaries, in its acceptance that gay and straight belong here together. . .I ask my masseur as he works his way up my calves, Is there more sex now than under Communism? He shrugs. The question seems ridiculous in this place. In the time zone of the bathhouses, regimes come and go, along with their styles in moral censure. Only the pleasures of the body endure.”7

But however seductive the phrase, “the pleasures of the body” cannot be separated from the world outside. People who are undernourished, sick, pregnant, old, or threatened by potential violence will experience their bodies very differently, and only when political and economic conditions allow can we engage in certain “pleasures.” Indeed bodily pleasure is often shaped by political and economic conditions; a sex worker in a Calcutta brothel is unlikely to experience her body in ways similar to that of her customers (or indeed to that of a high-class “escort” in Manhattan). Beryl Langer has observed that “[w]hile the tortured body is as emblematic of global postmodernity as the playful lycra/leather-clad body, it receives much less attention from theoretical explorers of the ‘postmodern condition.'”8 Yet torture often comes with sexual overtones, which is reified and trivialized in some pornography.

Sexuality is an area of human behavior, emotion, and understanding which is often thought of as “natural” and “private,” even though it is simultaneously an arena of constant surveillance and control. What is understood as “natural” varies considerably across cultures and is policed by a large range of religious, medical, legal, and social institutions. Equally there are many ways of understanding the links between sex and politics, ranging from the regulation of contraception and abortion through to espionage, where sex has been central, or so at least novelists like to believe. (Though it was the head of the CIA, Allen Dulles, who once said: “So long as there is sex it is going to be used in espionage.”)9 Societies regulate sex through religious and cultural prohibitions, ceremonies and rules; through legal, scientific, hygiene, and health policies; through government restrictions and encouragement; and through a whole range of practices which form part of everyday life, and constitute what Gayle Rubin termed the “sex/gender system.”10

Almost all “traditional” (by which I mean preindustrial) societies appear to be organized with strong homosocial components, so that men and women often exist in largely separate worlds, and marriage and heterosexual sex is highly regulated through ceremony and ritual, usually involving extended families. The best example of this sort of social organization is found in those tribal societies where men and women live separately, as in the famous “longhouses” of Borneo, and married couples spend only relatively short periods of time together. As societies “modernize,” the sharp distinctions based on gender decline, and along with these changes comes the development of the nuclear family as the central unit of social organization and the development of ideologies of companionate marriage based on reciprocal love and respect. Until the 1970s more than half the marriages in South Korea were arranged through go-betweens; now “marriages for love, not family -arranged partnerships, have become the norm.”11 As the expectations of marriage grow, so too do the probabilities that those who are disappointed will seek to end them, leading to rising divorce rates.12 These are of course ideal typologies, but they help make sense of the ways in which larger socio-economic structures frame assumptions about sexuality and gender. They also explain the extraordinary rapidity of changes in the sex/gender system over the past century, as more and more people are forced to negotiate the transition between very different orders. It is not uncommon for middle-class urban dwellers to find themselves looking after relatives from the hinterland with whom they share very few common values.

Even so, the most “modern” society retains particular assumptions around sexuality and gender derived from earlier periods, and often enforced through religious and cultural ideologies. Think, for example, of the ways in which certain sports are constructed as essential tests of masculinity, and of the long battle of women to have their sporting prowess recognized as equally valid to that of men, as in the struggle to establish a professional women’s tennis circuit. Team sports have played a central role in the creation of both individual and national styles of masculinity, whether it be English cricket or football in Uruguay, for whom victory in the 1924 and 1928 Olympics was a decisive moment in nation building.13

Sports, too, are an arena where one sees a range of sexual restrictions and inhibitions; is it too fanciful to see an element of homoerotic sublimation in contact sports, especially football, matched by the strong taboos against footballers “coming out”?14 (Footballers who do come out gain considerable notoriety, as in the case of David Kopay in the United States; Ian Roberts in Australia; and, most tragically, Justin Fanashu in Britain, who committed suicide after being accused of sex with a minor.) In the case of women, team sports are often an arena for lesbian contacts to be established, and not only in western countries, as Kim Berman has noted of the Soweto Women’s Soccer Club in South Africa.15

As these examples suggest, sexuality and gender are inextricably interconnected, and often regulated through similar ideological and institutional means. I agree with Spike Petersen and Jacqui True when they write: “Whereas gender is not always the most salient or oppressive dimension at work in a particular context, we believe gender always shapes the expression of other dimensions (e.g., racist policies are also gendered); and insofar as gender identities are integral to our sense of self and personal security, it often profoundly shapes our commitments to particular lenses.”16 This is one reason why transgender behavior or display outside permissible spaces – whether such spaces be the bedarche role in Native American societies or the Mardi Gras festivals in contemporary New Orleans or Sydney – are so unsettling.

Almost all societies establish very clearly gendered rules and expectations around sexuality, so that while most societies, for example, place a particular value on female virginity this is rarely the case for men. Indeed in some societies a girl who has been raped is treated as “dishonored” and hence unfit for marriage, even though she was powerless to preserve her virginity. Equally, in many societies a raped wife is regarded as fit only to be divorced or, in the worst of cases, to be killed. In a study drawing on seven countries in Africa, Latin America, and Asia/Pacific, Gary Dowsett and Peter Aggleton comment that “[a]s the best marker of the double bind for young women, virginity is still held as important in two ways: as a guarantee of the value of a potential marriage partner, and as proof of the character and worthiness of each young woman in the eyes of her partner, family and community.” Yet they point to the decline of virginity before marriage as a consequence of modernization, the demand to earn money, and the impact of youth culture, which “increasingly validates a ‘surrender to love.'”17

It is an oversimplification to suggest that all cultures organize sexuality around the enhancement of male pleasure above female, but it is rare to find cultures where the reverse is true. Indeed many cultures and religions teach women that to enjoy sex is a sign of immodesty: one study quotes a Nigerian woman as saying “Hausa women usually do not show any sign of enjoyment during sex because their husbands will think they are wayward.”18 Anthony Giddens has noted that the sexual “double standard” is central to almost all nonmodern societies,19 but it appears to persist well into modernity. Thus Gail Pheterson’s framework of “the interplay between psychology and sociology, between notions of female honor and male nobility,”20 used to analyze sex work, applies to most human societies, though it takes very different forms. The provision of male sexual pleasure is part of sexual regimes in societies marked by the imperative to produce – namely those in the early stages of industrialization – as much as in those dominated by the imperative to consume. Prostitution and pornography flourish in both, and are largely created as means of satisfying male “desire” through the services, in both the corporeal and fantasy realms, of women. The reverse of this is the very common practice of defining sexual desire as something “nice women” do not experience, and the construction of women as either madonnas or whores, no matter that the reality is almost always more complex. No equivalent divide appears to exist for men.

Certainly the growth of “consumer society” has tended to create at least the possibilities of recreational sex for women as well as for men, with the growth of male strippers catering to women-only audiences, the basis for the enormously popular film The Full Monty. But overall the imbalance remains, and is symbolized by the numbers of “swingers” clubs and bars which allow free admission to women in order to balance the numbers of men.

Both the political/economic order and dominant patterns of sexuality and gender reflect what R. W. Connell has termed “hegemonic masculinity,” namely “the configuration of gender practice which embodies the currently accepted answer to the problem of the legitimacy of patriarchy, which guarantees (or is taken to guarantee) the dominant position of men and the subordination of women.”21 Every society treats men and women differently, and in very few does this difference favor women. In practice, as Connell demonstrates, the nature of this masculinity may shift, and indeed certain women may well find ways of successfully benefiting from its structures while many men will be severely punished or disadvantaged for their failures to uphold the premises of hegemonic masculinity. The advantage of this conceptualization is that it allows for the structural inequalities suggested by terms like “patriarchy,” while also recognizing that these inequalities are created through human action, and impinge very differently on different individuals.

Religion is central to sexual regulation in almost all societies, although its impact has steadily declined in most western democracies over the past half century, with the major exception of the United States. Indeed it may well be that the primary social function of religion is to control sexuality and gender in the interests of hegemonic masculinity. Ironically those countries which rejected religion in the name of Communism tended to adopt their own version of sexual puritanism, which often matched those of the religions they assailed. Whether it be Catholicism, Hinduism, Islam, or Communism, religions tend to claim a particular right to regulate and restrict sexuality, a right which is often recognized by state authorities. As Marta Lamas wrote of Mexico: “All local and federal battles over sexuality have focused on the same issue – whether to affirm or question traditional Catholic morality.”22 Even though the Mexican revolution of 1917 established a secular state, the influence of the church remains very large, and is often exerted through religious organizations such as Opus Dei and the Legionnaires of Christ. Similar comments could be made about the tension between religious and secular forces in countries as different as Israel, Ireland, Turkey, and post-Communist Poland.

All too often sex is regulated through violence. “Violence is the quintessential, testosteronic expression of male entitlement,”23 David Landes wrote in speaking about Islamic cultures, but his words are clearly applicable beyond them. There is evidence that domestic violence is widespread in most societies, and it is rare for police and legal systems to provide adequate resources to prevent it. As Silvana Paternostro wrote of Mexico: “An average of eighty two rapes are committed every day in Mexico City. Women’s fears are even more justified, given the police officers themselves have been participants in sex crimes. In 1990, five policemen rampaged the city raping at least nineteen young women.”24 It is tempting to ascribe such figures to the Latin cult of machismo,25 but these and other accounts from South America – in Argentina it is reported that 65% of women have been beaten by a man at least once, more than three-quarters of the time by their husband26 – are rejected by the (overwhelmingly male) Parliament on the grounds they were contrary to “traditional family life.”27 In the same way it is only recently, and in a limited number of countries, that rape within marriage has been recognized as an offense.

When men act out their sexual fears they are likely to be distorted into violence, and there is some evidence that sexual violence is a growing part of the current global disorder.28 Thus rape is used by men both in the name of preserving tradition and in making revolution. As Lillian Ng described the experience of a woman in China: “The red book of Mao held in front of my eyes was my anaesthetic, my moral support, my encouragement, while I burned with pain, scorched by cramps, the fire in the pit of my stomach that rose from the furnace that was my passage of yin.”29 Meanwhile adulterers, prostitutes, homosexuals – or those suspected of being any of these – are routinely raped, stoned, tortured, and killed in countries with governments as different as Guatemala and Iran. Those who publicly flout the gender/sexual order seem particularly vulnerable to violence, so that for sex workers and transsexuals the anticipation of violence is often, as Richard Parker wrote of Brazil, “an explosive potential that permeates daily life.”30

The triumph of liberal capitalism at the end of the Cold War has also meant new outbreaks of local conflicts and unrest, as conflicts increasingly become power and ethnic struggles within countries, with correspondingly huge civilian casualties. Under conditions of civil war sex becomes as much a realm of torture as of pleasure, as shown in widespread rape in Rwanda, former Yugoslavia, or Sierra Leone.31 Manuel Carballo of the International Centre of Migration and Health has estimated that 40,000 women were raped in the war in Bosnia “and we don’t believe these figures are particularly unique or unusual.”32 There were further reports of mass rape by Serb soldiers as part of the “ethnic cleansing” of Kosovo, with suggestions that one of the aims was to impregnate Albanian Muslim women. Rape, of course, can also be used against men, and indeed seems particularly prominent in the ethnic battles in former Yugoslavia.33 Linda Grant has suggested that the rapes in Bosnia were connected to the availability of pornography in post-Tito Yugoslavia, but without any firm evidence, which is unfortunately true of many of the claims made about pornography.34

More convincing is Nikos Papastergiadis’s claim that the use of rape in Bosnia was different from the accounts of rape in previous warfare, because it was a conscious part of the policy of “ethnic cleansing” and involved “a new extreme of brutality.”35 Unfortunately his argument would probably hold in a number of other contemporary situations of ethnic and civil conflict. Even without war, rape may be increasing. Evidence from countries as dissimilar as Papua New Guinea and South Africa suggests that rape (often “pack rape”) is becoming increasingly common as a response to the massive dislocations of contemporary life.36 Indeed it is widely believed that a woman is raped every five minutes in South Africa. As Graeme Simpson and Gerald Kraak argue, many young men who feel powerless and marginalized in a world of rapid change will turn to violence, and rape “becomes a way of symbolically reasserting their masculine identity.”37

Such phenomena are often described as being the “unintended consequences” of modernization, often with the implicit assumption that they will pass with growing affluence. This is probably the point to note my unease with terms such as “development” which imply some sort of linear progression toward a future possessed already in the rich world. I have tried to avoid speaking of “developed” and “underdeveloped” countries for this reason, and more often speak of “rich” and “poor.” This does, however, group together countries with very different cultural backgrounds and political systems – Denmark and Saudi Arabia are both “rich” countries for example – and at times I have had to use the rather clumsy terms “western” and “non-western” where the emphasis is on culture rather than economics. I do so uncomfortably aware that the sort of oppositional definition here is both loaded and inaccurate: both contemporary Japan and traditional villages in Papua could be described as “nonwestern” but to lump them together is to deprive the term of any real meaning. In the same way concepts of “modernization” tend to imply a linear progression toward a single end point which is usually coterminous with American capitalism,38 so that terms such as “modern” and “traditional” need to be understood as ideologically loaded ideal types.

Increasingly the institutions and ideologies which link sex and politics are themselves being globalized, as concerns around gender, sexuality, and the body play a central role in the construction of international political, social, and economic regimes. It is the complexity of these interconnections that is the central theme of this book.

* * * * *

I use the term “political economy” to signal that I am discussing sexuality in the context of larger socioeconomic factors which create the conditions within which sexual acts and identities occur. These factors include the economic, as growing affluence allows- and forces-new ways of organizing “private” life, and as sexuality is increasingly commodified; the cultural, as images of different sexualities are rapidly diffused across the world, often to be confronted by religious and nationalist movements; and the political, in that state regulation plays a crucial role in determining the possible forms of sexual expression. For example there is a far more overt “gay” world in Manila than in Singapore, despite the considerable gap in wealth, in part because of different political regimes. A more dramatic example comes from Spain, which after the death of Franco and the resulting democratization saw a rapid growth of apparent sexual permissiveness, reflected in the films of Pedro Almodóvar. It might at times be appropriate to add a fourth category, the epistemological, as particular ways of understanding human beings and the worlds they make are diffused globally.

A political-economy perspective means we have to recognize class, gender, race but also the role of the state; that is, we need to think in terms of structures rather than specific issues or identities. As long as political and economic structures maintain most women as subordinate in most areas of life, as they do in most parts of the world, we cannot escape the fact that any discussion of sexuality must recognize differences of gender which are an unknowable mix of the biological and the social. I say unknowable because despite the current vogue to attribute a great deal to genetic influences we cannot stand outside human society and say this is the essence of being “man” or “woman”: there are clear biological differences, most obviously the ability to give birth, but the meanings attributed to these differences are inescapably social. Biology imposes certain limits within which humans construct their worlds, but these too are changing, and indeed becoming less and less meaningful with developments such as in vitro-fertilization births and cloning.

Others have sought to link political economy to sexuality, and as Nancy Folbre has shown, sexuality was an issue for the founders of modern economic thought.39 The rebirth of second-wave feminism saw some interest in applying economic analyses to sexuality,40 often around issues such as child care and housework. In general, however, current theorizing around sexuality tends to place great stress on questions of discourse, representation, and identity, often at the expense of material reality. The approach of this book is in some ways an attempt to return to earlier attempts in this century to link a Marxist and a Freudian reading of social life, though in a very different context from that of the Frankfurt School and theorists such as Herbert Marcuse (whose later work was a significant influence on my early writings). I am less utopian, now, than was Marcuse during the upheavals of the late 1960s;41 the experience of both the gay movement and the AIDS epidemic has produced its own pragmatic reckonings, of which more later. At the start of this century Freud’s pessimism about “human nature” seems unfortunately all too justified. Nor is it easy to reconcile the Freudian and Marxist traditions; Joel Kovel expresses the difficulty when he writes: “Each had a terrible truth to it-and each negated the other.”42

Nonetheless there is in Freud an attempt to link an exploration of the personal with larger historical forces, to find ways of explaining the mix of self-interest and irrationality which underlies social life. If we are prepared to understand concepts such as libido or the superego, or grand historical myths such as that of Civilization and Its Discontents as metaphors rather than as literal truth, they offer ways of illuminating the ways in which political economy intersects with the psychological to create particular regimes of sexuality and gender. What makes it possible to link Freud’s theories to those of Marx is that both understood the way in which a great deal of what is taken for granted is constructed by human beings, for Marx through the relationship of social and economic forces in history, for Freud through their impact on the unconscious. Both thinkers were hostile to religion, but a Freudian reading makes more sense of just how it is able to operate so frequently as “the opiate of the masses,” to borrow Marx’s term.

My approach has something in common with the work of two American anthropologists, Michaela di Leonardo and Roger Lancaster,43 of feminists working to gender international relations (particularly Jan Pettman44 and Cynthia Enloe) as well as with such writers as R. W. Connell, Nancy Fraser, Richard Parker, and Jeffrey Weeks, whose works will be cited frequently. It is an approach that could be called neo-Marxist, and shares much of the criticism of postmodern theory as too inclined to concentrate on the textual and the discursive, and insufficiently interested in institutions and political and economic structures.45 At the same time it recognizes that not all power relations are based on economic conflict, and that sexuality and gender are arenas in which we need a more nuanced understanding of human understandings and action than is true in either orthodox Marxist or postmodern discursive analyses. This is not to deny the attempts of some scholars to find ways of incorporating older Marxist and Freudian critical theory into post-modernity. In her remarkable study of body politics in Guatemala, the anthropologist Diane Nelson develops the idea of “fluidarity,” which she sees as “‘pink’ in the sense of Marxist, with close attention to class relations, but also as ‘Freudian,’ attune to the work of desire and the unconscious.”46

The use of Marxism does not mean, however, that I believe all forms of oppression and exploitation can be reduced to economic relations, and here I draw on Nancy Fraser’s very useful distinction between “injustices of distribution and injustices of recognition,” both of which she claims have material consequences and both of which need to be countered to achieve social justice.47 She argues that the former injustices require political-economic restructuring, while the latter require cultural or symbolic change: “It could also involve recognizing and possibly valorizing cultural diversity. More radically still, it could involve the wholesale transformation of societal patterns of representation, interpretation, and communication in ways that would change everybody’s sense of self.”48 Fraser’s analysis is particularly useful in that it goes beyond the crude idea that we need to choose between distributive and identity politics, and suggests that each has a place in developing better and more just societies.

The present period is one which has to be understood as marking an enormous expansion of the reach of capitalism, both in terms of geography and in terms of everyday life, but without thereby assuming that everything is reducible to questions of economic power. However, the postmodern vogue for reducing questions of inequality and power to matters of discourse is even more misleading. Discussing this in relation to the work of Judith Butler, Teresa Ebert argues: “[She] provides an analytic of power in which we do not have to confront the global relations and systematicity of power; in which we do not have to deal with the most serious consequences of power operating in dialectical relation to the mode of production and the division of labor-the consequences. . .of exploitation.”49

Sex has always been present in exchanges between peoples; one can see harbingers of today’s globalization in the trade in youthful slaves in the Roman Empire or in the sexual exchanges which accompanied early Chinese, Arab, and European explorers. The introduction of syphilis into Europe following Columbus’s “discovery” of the New World reminds us of the ways in which sexual contact almost inevitably goes hand in hand with other forms of cross-cultural contact, and is an integral part of colonization and exploitation. Outbreaks of syphilis in Uganda in the early part of the twentieth century were associated by some British colonial authorities with the impact of colonialism and Christianity on traditional Bagandan society.50 The end of the Cold War meant a rapid change in attitudes about sexuality in eastern Europe.51

In Leonard Bernstein’s version of Voltaire’s Candide there is a wonderful song, sung by Dr. Pangloss in eighteenth-century Lisbon, about the transmission of “a dear souvenir” which passed from “a seafaring Scott” via “a sweet little cheat in Paree. . .a man from Japan . . .and a Moor from Iran” back to Westphalia and his sweetheart Paquette.52 With the great imperial expansion of Europe which began in the sixteenth century came a vast array of different sexual arrangements, all ultimately based on maintaining the dual superiority (through gender and race) of the imperialist male. That male was usually but not always white; Japan established brothels through east Asia to accommodate the expansion of Japanese business after its defeat of China in 1895 led to the conquest of both Korea and Taiwan.

Sexuality is a domain enormously influenced by global forces, both economic and cultural, but also one that has been underresearched and theorized. Here I am speaking of both behavior and emotions; while it is impossible to say much about global change in behavior there will sometimes be evidence for change through a careful study of survey research, police reports, STI figures, and so forth. R. W. Connell claims that at least in the United States there is persuasive evidence for a rising rate of heterosexual intercourse outside marriage and a move for women’s patterns of behavior to become more like men’s.53 In similar ways research suggests that sexual behavior appears to be changing in similar ways in Japan, which has the world’s highest use of condoms (in part because the contraceptive pill was not available until 1999, making Japan the last significant country to approve its use).54 The decision led to an extraordinary article by conservative commentator Francis Fukuyama, who claimed that it would undermine Japanese social stability, based on “the social bargain on which Japanese society has traditionally rested, in which male resources were exchanged for female fertility.”55 Given that condoms are widely available in Japan, and that countries which have not only allowed but promoted the pill have long had far higher birthrates than Japan, the argument seems bizarre.

Evidence collected as a consequence of HIV-prevention programs has shown a rise in the use of condoms in a number of countries,56 and some reports of a decline in adolescent sex in a couple of countries, most notably Uganda. However, reports from Thailand suggest an increase in premarital sex among teenage girls, and correspondingly less reliance on prostitutes by adolescent males.57 While one might expect various fluctuations in sexual behavior following particular campaigns, the impetus of globalization is almost certainly to both break down existing taboos (e.g., the very high premium on premarital virginity for women) and lead to a gradual convergence of sexual behavior across different societies.

Sexual mores and values have constantly changed as societies have come in contact with outside influences and new technologies. While the emphasis in this book is on more recent and sometimes dramatic change, these are often best understood as a continuation of a very long historical process which involves centuries of trade, slavery, colonization, and large-scale shifts in the nature of economic and technological structures. To speak of “traditional values” is often to adopt a totally ahistorical attitude toward human behavior, which assumes a static continuity which is likely to be true only in small and very isolated societies. It is not at all clear that the changes in sexuality in, say, post-Communist Russia or rapidly industrializing China are any greater than those wrought by the Atlantic slave trade of the eighteenth century or the massive urbanization of nineteenth-century Europe. What is different, however, is a far denser and faster system of diffusing ideas, values, and perceptions, so that a certain self-consciousness about and understanding of sexuality is arguably being universalized in a completely new way.

There are various transnational surveys which attempt to measure changes in attitudes to a whole range of social issues across both time and space, and in one overview of these Ronald Ingelhart has claimed to find evidence of a shift from what he terms “materialist” to “postmaterialist” values in a number of countries. A full discussion of his argument goes beyond the scope of this book, but it is interesting that he shows significant shifts toward a more permissive view on abortion, divorce, homosexuality, and extramarital sex in all but two of twenty countries surveyed between 1981 and 1990.58 The two exceptions are South Africa and Argentina, but it is my hunch that particular political circumstances in the two years surveyed might explain this, and that a rather different result would be likely had the latter year been somewhat later. The twenty countries were largely North Atlantic democracies, though they included Mexico, Hungary, Japan, and South Korea as well as Argentina and South Africa; what is interesting is the rapid shift away from “traditional” values about sex in Catholic countries such as Mexico and Spain. (I leave aside for the moment the extreme skepticism with which we must read such survey data, especially given that even apparently equivalent questions change their meaning through translation, and there are very difficult issues in ensuring appropriate sampling, etc.) Overall the evidence suggests that in rich countries at least there is a converging move toward a more permissive set of attitudes on matters sexual, even if national differences remain significant.

Equally it is difficult to fully grasp the ways in which the emotional and “inner life” are altered by the larger changes wrought by political economy. If Giddens is right “globalization” is “a shorthand [term] for a whole series of influences that are altering not just events on the large scale but the very tissue of our everyday lives.”59 This is echoed in the less sociological description of Don DeLillo: “But even as desire tends to specialize, going silky and intimate, the force of converging markets produces an instantaneous capital that shoots across horizons at the speed of light, making for a certain furtive sameness, a planing away of particulars that affects everything from architecture to leisure time to the way people eat and sleep and dream.”60

These changes are part of everyday life for greater and greater numbers of people. I was once asked in a seminar where I had spoken of the apparent universalizing of gay identities whether the apparent increase in gay romance in some countries was a product of “soap opera or Chinese opera.” The emphasis on foregrounding “the personal,” most obvious in American television and magazines, is disseminated through a global media, which carries The Oprah Winfrey Show or Who Magazine to anywhere that has television and newsstands. With this comes a particular way of understanding identity and relationships which is as culturally specific to early-twenty-first-century consumerist capitalism as Freud’s analyses were to early-twentieth-century bourgeois Vienna, and is reflected in phenomena such as the rejection of arranged marriages and women claiming the right to sexual pleasure.

One can see these shifts in accounts of Japanese life, where the last several decades have seen revolutionary shifts in the willingness of women to accept their traditional subordinate role. This shift is evoked by the narrator in the novel Memoirs of a Geisha, who claims of the man she loved that “[n]othing in life mattered more to me than pleasing him.”61 Contemporary Japanese women reject arranged marriages, are more likely than men to initiate divorce, and have become increasingly willing to pursue cases of sexual harassment and rape.62 (Indeed new terms have been invented to cover cases such as a married couple who live apart or a weekend-only marriage.) Yet this does not mean that sexual life in Japan is simply becoming westernized. The hypocrisies of Japanese sex remain rather different, meaning that the gap between what can be said and what is in practice accepted would seem shocking to most westerners. Nicholas Bornoff gives the example of “moppet cheesecake”: “In the West the concept of pornography for adolescents would be almost as outrageous as child pornography. In Japan, however, where basic attitudes towards sex are down-to-earth despite the paradoxical formalities and official injunctions curtailing them, such magazines raise only the eyebrows of the more puritanical.”63 In the same way there is a large homosexual world, but very little open acknowledgment of its existence of the sort that has now occurred in most western countries.

It is not true, of course, that the globalization of emotions runs in one direction, or indeed that the north is always the source of change. In her formulation of “the world economy of passion” Marta Savigliano argues: “Parallelling the extraction of material goods and labor from the Third World, the passion-poor core countries of the capitalist world system have been appropriating emotional and affective practices from their colonies for several centuries. . .The Third World’s emotional and expressive actions and arts have been categorized, homogenized, and transformed into commodities suitable for the First World’s consumption.”64 While I am uncomfortable with the simplistic assumption of the poverty of northern passion, her comments are a reminder of the ways in which globalization always involves reciprocal and often contradictory influences. Certainly the rich world has long looked to the hot zones of the world for images of sexuality, whether they be the Polynesian paintings of Gauguin, the sexual adventures of several generations of French artists and writers in North Africa, or the flamboyance of Latin American samba and tango. Echoing Savigliano, Jose Quiroga has written that “Cuba has always been linked to the outside world by the threads of desire.”65

In the 1920s the African American singer Josephine Baker became famous for a show which played on the association in white audiences between negritude and sex: “[She] entered a stage jungle by dusk (of course), and crawled along the trunk of a fallen tree on all fours; there, to the beat of native drums, she came across the sleeping body of a young white man, for whom she launched into her dance.”66 The appeal of the apparently savage darkskin was repeated by the Cuban Alicia Parla, who became famous in the 1930s for her erotically charged rumba dancing, and the Brazilian Carmen Miranda in the 1940s and 1950s. Since the 1960s Jamaican reggae music has been a potent influence on the outside world,67 joining a range of other cultures in the shopping malls of the world under the sobriquet “world” (i.e., nonwestern) music. Even today western theatrical entrepreneurs promote African dancers as embodying a particular sensual savagery.

More recently the patterns have to some extent become multiple, so that in the imagination of many in the poor world it is the north which represents sexual exoticism. Such exoticism can be conjured up as either an evil against which traditional protections need be invoked, or a fantasy to be sought after, as in the appearance of eastern European women in the brothels of Bangkok and Dubai. (There were already elements of this view of the north during the time of European empire, when some of the colonized constructed white women as both desirable and unattainable.)

While it is tempting to write about globalization as if the script ran in one direction, the reality is that human contact and conquest has always changed perceptions of what is natural behavior, and much current postcolonial theory can be profitably used to read back into the long histories of imagining ourselves through contact with those who can be defined as different. The colonial enterprise changed both the colonizers and the colonized, as Neville Hoad has argued persuasively in discussing the invention of homosexuality as a category in nineteenth-century scientific thought. “The perception of male homosexuality amongst the subject people of empire,” he writes, “is mobilized both by groups seeking to stigmatize homosexuality further and by those wishing to depathologize and decriminalize it.” As Hoad points out, the connection between the invention of the homosexual category and the expansion of empires is linked in narratives such as the anxiety about moral decline found in writers like Josephine Butler and in Sir Richard Burton’s rather fanciful invention of the “Sotadic zone,” namely almost anywhere with a non-British climate which he claimed facilitated the existence of “pathological love.”68

Sexual ideologies cannot exist independent of larger political, social, and cultural contexts, and any meaningful liberationist position must simultaneously recognize the links to certain privileges in this position which are often unavailable to most women and children. To the phrase “pleasure and danger,” which Carole Vance took as the title of an anthology on sexuality,69 Jill Matthews has added the concept of “obligation,” arguing that for women sex is almost always “embedded in a network of power relations, and their position in this network is usually incoherent.”70 For most women in the world sex and reproduction carry considerable dangers-disease, unwanted pregnancy, infertility, and severe obstetric complications-which may well outweigh the possible pleasures, and again underline the extent to which the experience of sex is gendered.71 It is not surprising that women’s movements have often been associated with campaigns for greater sexual morality, which often have been equated with forcing men to accept more responsibility for their actions. At the same time many feminists themselves have warned of the danger of divorcing reproduction from sex: “Sexual desire is entangled with broader questions of pleasure, with the aesthetics of the body, with the pleasures of a more diffuse sensuality and collective sociability, and sometimes with the pleasures of fecundity.”72

Certain regimes of gender are themselves being globalized, as Cynthia Enloe has demonstrated in her account of the “banana republics” of Central America, where sexist ideologies and a division of labor along gender lines help maintain low wages and the dominance of foreign corporations. Yet the standard literature of political economy and international relations largely avoids this dimension. It ignores, as Enloe writes about her introduction to the study of international relations, “what the connections might be between international debt, foreign investment, and militarism on the one hand and rape, prostitution, housework and wife-battering on the other. The message one came away with from those books was: the former are inherently ‘serious’ and ‘political’; the latter are ‘private’ and probably trivial.”73

Consider, too, the role of globalization in the creation of new gender and family structures. R. W. Connell, whose work has influenced mine for more than twenty years, has argued that we should see “global markets and multinational corporations as key sites of the making and transformation of a global gender order.”74 Of course in assessing these changes we have to remember that in many parts of the world dominant sexual ideologies are themselves the products of earlier imperialist expansion, and of the missionaries who accompanied traders and soldiers. “Traditional” views of sexuality and gender in much of Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific owe as much to colonialism as to precolonial culture. Indeed the idea of a precolonial tradition is often a problematic concept for the millions of people who are descended from the mass migrations of nineteenth-century empires-African slaves to the Americas, Indian laborers to Fiji and South Africa, Chinese workers to Malaysia and California. Whose tradition are we talking about in countries which have undergone radical reshaping of their demography due to foreign domination? Is it African culture or imperialist Christianity which continues to criminalize homosexuality in Zimbabwe, and put President Banana on trial?

Gender and sexuality come together through the family, and family structures themselves, far from being fixed or “natural” as moral conservatives insist, are ultimately dependent on social and economic structures. Perhaps the most significant change for millions of people caused by greater affluence, urbanization, and foreign influences is the decline of marriage based on social and economic arrangements between families, versus the far more individualist assumptions about marriage as ways of achieving love and personal fulfillment. With these changes in marriage comes, in turn, a decline in the extended family, which is causing huge problems in the majority of countries which do not have state welfare systems and depend on families to care for the young, the old, and the sick. Even as wealthy a state as Singapore legally requires children to take responsibility for their aging parents as part of propping up “traditional” (or “Asian”) values.

John MacInnes argues that “modernity systematically undermines patriarchy,”75 and certainly one of the themes of fundamentalist movements opposed to modernity (the Taliban, the Amish, the Lubavitchers) is their rigid patriarchal attitudes to women and children. At the same time the male “flight from commitment,” which Barbara Ehrenreich noted for the United States some time ago,76 is taking place across the globe, as neoliberal economics lead to the collapse of more and more families under the pressures of economic hardship and movement from country to city. One report from Chile claims: “Nationally, 25 per cent of households are headed by a woman, but they are concentrated in poor areas like Reneca where the figures rises as high as 50 per cent. Most of these women’s partners either disappeared during the Pinochet years or abandoned them in the Latin American machismo culture of multiple mistresses.”77 While I think this explanation places too little emphasis on the implications of the larger socioeconomic changes of the Pinochet regime, the figures underline the double jeopardy of globalization: once the economic boom slows down not only does it leave millions without jobs, but also without the informal security nets provided in the past by extended family and village communities. Under such conditions of social disintegration, corruption and crime flourish.

Just as was true in nineteenth-century Europe and North America, “traditional” family forms break down with urbanization, industrialization, and affluence, but the pace of change means that in some cases people may move in one generation from the extended family of precapitalism to the post-nuclear family of consumer capitalism. (The highest percentage of households headed by women is not in the affluent west, but rather in Botswana and Barbados.)78 A few years ago I was on Bataam Island, an Indonesian outpost a short ferry ride away from Singapore. Going into town in the evening, I was struck by the large number of teenagers flocking to discos, teenagers who had moved away from their villages and families because of the opportunity for work in new factories. The club scene, complete with its designer drugs, is by no means confined to western countries; there has been considerable controversy over the use of ecstasy in Asian countries over the past few years. Runganaga and Aggleton have noted that in Zimbabwean discotheques and nightclubs “[y]oung men also learn from one another how to arouse women sexually by kissing and smooching, behaviors which were rarely seen in former times, and actions that cause offense to some rural peoples today.”79

The more affluent travel abroad to find sexual freedom, or at least its illusion; perhaps the contemporary version of nineteenth-century British and French homosexual tourists in North Africa and Southeast Asia are the Chinese gay men portrayed in films such as Wedding Banquet or Happy Together80 or the single Japanese women tourists in Bali or Hawaii, sometimes referred to as “yellow cabs.”81 Some western countries have begun to accept persecution of homosexuality as a reason to grant refugee status. There is another sort of travel in search of sexual freedom, that of women crossing borders in search of abortions, as is the case for thousands of Irish women who have been forced to go to Britain because of the strictness of the Irish laws or large numbers of European women who seek abortions in the Netherlands.82 In recent years some women have fled China, fearing compulsory abortions because of the “one child” policy: in a widely reported case in Australia in 1997 an eight-and-a-half-month-pregnant woman was deported to China and apparently underwent an abortion ten days later.

Such examples only emphasize that movement between and within countries has very different meanings for the rich and the poor. Economic “development” means that hundreds of thousands are forced to turn to sex work. This is evident in Chinese cities where in 1991 official figures suggested 200,000 people were arrested for prostitution, with the actual number working clearly far higher.83 Such figures in turn reflect a general collapse of the puritanism of Mao’s China, with growing affluence creating new opportunities and interest in sex, mild perhaps by western standards but revolutionary beside the mores of even fifteen years ago.84 Similarly Vietnam by the late 1990s was estimated to have 60,000 prostitutes, although “since prostitution is illegal and often occurs in veiled settings, such as karaoke bars and hotels, others believe the number is much higher.”85 The women who offer quick handjobs in the parks late at night in Ho Chi Minh City are there as a direct consequence of the economic-but not political-liberalization of the past few years.

That there is a close link between liberalization and major changes in sexual behavior is suggested in a story in Asiaweek in early 1999 about the Chinese city of Nanjie in central China. Here local authorities have preserved an earlier version of Communist austerity: “There is no pollution from such Western decadence as karaoke bars and discos, and township leaders insist that Nanjie has no crime, no prostitution, no premarital sex and no unplanned babies. ‘There was only one divorce last year. We strictly live according to the thoughts of Chairman Mao’ says Wang Jinzhong, vice party secretary. It is almost as if Nanjie were a Communist theme park.”86 Allowing for the particular views of the reporters-it is odd to see karaoke described as “western decadence”-the report suggests that it is probably impossible to maintain the sexual rigidities of revolutionary China once economic liberalization is encouraged. In a country with a transient population of between 80 and 120 million, mostly young men, social dislocation seems inevitable.87 By the end of the century sexually transmitted infections were escalating rapidly, and Chinese authorities themselves were attributing this to the impact of market reforms.88

It could be argued that the changes in family structures and values have been slower in much of Asia, both Communist and non-Communist, than one might expect, but they are occurring, and are reflected in certain Asian unease about globalization: “When Asian spokesmen (at least the male ones) say they do not like Western values, what they often mean is that they do not like Western sexual roles; the individualism that is problematic for them includes not only freewheeling political protest but freewheeling protest within the family.”89 Under President Suharto the Indonesian state tried systematically to maintain “traditional values” through explicit rules for sexual conduct among civil servants90 and carried on the opposition of Indonesia’s first president, Sukarno, to “decadent” western music: “In the late New Order, punk, death metal and other 1990s headbanging genres, adopted from the Euro-American scene, have come to signify a gesture of generational opposition to the ageing regime, led by an old man.”91 Not surprisingly the emergence of new political movements and politics in post-Suharto Indonesia involved considerable numbers of women unwilling to continue the subservient role laid down for them in the New Order. Similarly the modernizing rulers of Malaysia adopted policies of considerable intervention in family and gender structures to promote both economic growth and political quiescence.92

There is ongoing debate about how markedly and how rapidly economic change is leading to social change, particularly in terms of family and gender structures. There are considerable insights into this from the literature of HIV/AIDS-but these suggest considerable variations between countries. Thus a UNAIDS report in Thailand suggests that the extended family is breaking down and stresses the centrality of mothers in care.93 On the other hand (and writing of Africa) Carael, Buve, and Awusabo-Asare claim that “[f]requently the changes perceived to follow from modernization are found to be less dramatic than initially supposed. Cross-cultural survey results showed that disparities in sexual behavior between urban and rural areas, after controlling for age and marital status, were considerably less than expected.”94 It is probable that new sorts of social pressures are required to maintain “traditional” forms of behavior as the environments in which they developed change- thus the concern of fundamentalists of all stripes to maintain such traditions, often through quite draconian social controls. It is probably also true that the greater wealth and “modernity” of Thailand is the crucial difference, rather than any particular cultural tradition.

Such social controls create new victims, usually women and children who are punished because they have already been violated. Consider, for example, reports that in Jordan a quarter of all homicides are “honor killings,” punishments of women for allegedly defiling their family’s honor through sexual misbehavior.95 Currently there is a campaign to repeal that section of the country’s penal code which provides that “[h] e who discovers his wife or a female relative committing adultery and kills, wounds or injures one or both of them is exempted from any penalty.”96 Increasing numbers of children, often born to women who have been raped or coerced into sex, are abandoned, so that numbers swell in orphanages in Moscow and Casablanca.97 In many countries governments provide no services for single mothers or illegitimate children, and in a few, particularly in Latin America, it is not unknown for police to regard such children as fit only for extermination. Although it is hard to get reliable figures, women with dependent children constitute a major part of the world’s poorest populations. As was true of industrialization in nineteenth-century North Atlantic countries, the rapid changes of the contemporary economy are producing demands which many governments are neither ready nor willing to accept.

In western countries not marrying is becoming the norm, as is increasing recognition of a wide range of family structures including single-parenting, communal households, and homosexual couples. The changes are rapid: until the 1970s “cohabitation” was illegal in most American states. This range is reflected both in the popularity of television programs which reflect new forms of relationships (e.g., the largely unattached singles of Seinfeld or Friends) and in the anxiety around the family which is reflected in the politics of “family values.” In the same way reports that more women are contemplating the possibility of life without marriage or children are coming from at least the more affluent parts of Asia,98 although the acceptance of single mothers and couples living together without marrying remains far less than in most western countries.

Except in a few rich enclaves outside the “first world” the availability of housing is a significant restriction on the development of growing numbers of single-parent and indeed single-person households now common in most of the western world. However, middle-class and educated women in “developing countries,” while clearly a minority, can count on the availability of cheap servants, which makes careers easier to manage than for most comparable western women. It is worth remembering that it took approximately a hundred years of industrialization before western countries recognized the possibility of the single woman as anything but a figure of either fun or pity.99 (On some readings the gap between Jane Austen’s Bennet family waiting at home for proposals of marriage and the single women searching for love and relationships in Sex and the City is not all that great.) Such a development requires changes both in the economic order, to allow women to hold well-paying jobs, and in the ideology which defines women in relation to the family.

While debates around the post-nuclear family are most obvious in the United States, they are by no means confined to that country. The first national recognition of same-sex partnerships came in Denmark in 1989 and arguments about state recognition of homosexual relationships have now extended to almost all of Europe.100 In 1998 a new magazine was launched in France, called Le Mensuel des Nouvelles Familles (The monthly of the new families), whose advertising poster showed two middle-aged men gazing adoringly at what appears to be an empty pram. By the 1990s France had a higher rate of births outside marriage than Britain or the United States, and in 1998 there was bitter debate over a proposal known as the Pacte civil de solidarité (Civil solidarity pact). The proposed law recognized cohabiting couples (both hetero- and homosexual) “who cannot or do not wish to marry,” and was bitterly opposed by the Right,101 who brought 100,000 people onto the streets of Paris in a protest march at the beginning of 1999. Shortly afterward the Senate amended the proposal to cover only heterosexual couples, but its opposition was finally overruled by a vote in the Assembly in October 1999. In Canada the supreme court ruled in 1999 that the definition in Ontario’s family law of “spouse” as a person of the opposite sex is unconstitutional-and in an echo of American responses, the House of Commons promptly declared that “marriage is and should remain the union of one man and one woman.”102

The idea of “gay marriage” became a major issue in the United States in 1996, following a case in the Hawaii Supreme Court which seemed likely to recognize same-sex marriage as constitutional. In response Congress-passed and President Clinton signed-the Defense of Marriage Act, which would have refused recognition of such a ruling in Hawaii in other states. (The Hawaiian decision was preempted by a constitutional amendment, supported by a 70% vote in a referendum, which grants the legislature the power “to reserve marriage to opposite-sex couples.”103 The fight has now shifted to other states, with Vermont the most likely battleground at the time of writing.) But while the idea of “gay marriage” has been a major issue for both sections of the gay/lesbian and the Christian right movements in the United States, it has had an impact elsewhere. There have been reports of homosexual marriages in countries as different as Japan, Argentina, and Vietnam, and in bizarre agreement with American fundamentalists, the Vietnamese National Assembly outlawed gay marriage in 1996 after reports of a couple of ceremonies which were held in Ho Chi Minh City, without any legal standing. In the Philippines there has been considerable debate around the legal status of same-sex partnerships, while the 1998 gay- and lesbian-pride parade in Johannesburg took as its theme “Recognise Our Relationships.”

One might of course ask whether this threatens to put the movement too far out of touch with the gut feelings of the great majority of South Africans. Sue Willmer makes this argument vis-B-vis Mexico: “The prominence given to the marriage issue has provided the religious right with fertile ground on which to organise opposition to the lesbian and gay movement. To what extent has the same-sex marriage movement benefited lesbians in the context of a country where religion, tradition and family values have so clearly been a source of their marginalization and where economic dependence remains a reality for the majority of women?”104 Similar comments have been made by the Fiji NGO Coalition on the Right to Sexual Orientation, which has pointed to fears of homosexual marriage as a major scare tactic being used by moral conservatives to push for the elimination of discrimination on grounds of sexuality from the Fiji Constitution.105 Yet when I discussed the issue with people in South Africa it became clear that the demand was an important one for large numbers of black and colored homosexuals, who saw it as necessary to win acceptance within their often deeply religious families and communities. The campaign for recognition of our relationships and “the right to a family life” was not, as I had originally assumed, a copy of American rhetoric but rather the logical extension of gains already won through the inclusion of equality based on sexuality within the new South African Constitution. Material produced by the National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality for the 1999 South African elections stressed that full equality encompasses equality in adoption, custody, and parenting of children and full and equal recognition of gay and lesbian relations.106

More surprisingly the Namibian high court, in a 1999 immigration case, ruled that homosexual relationship should enjoy legal equality. This was particularly controversial as the government had already declared its intention of criminalizing homosexuality as “inimical to true Namibian culture, African culture and religion.”107 The clash between universal concepts of human rights and essentialist views of African tradition captures some of the basic contradictions of globalization.

Nonetheless, Willmer’s comment reminds us that even where the same phenomenon seems to exist, in this case same-sex marriages, social and cultural differences will mean the phenomena bear very different meanings and significance in different settings. Underlying this discussion is the constant tension between the anthropological emphasis on cultural continuity and the emphasis of political economy on change. Think, for example, of different explanations of the prevalence of sex work in Thailand-in the argument that this is an integral part of Thai culture there is a danger of essentializing a “Thai sexuality” and ignoring socioeconomic contingencies which will shape the ways in which cultural norms are constantly remade and reimagined. It is equally silly to ignore the ways in which cultural, religious, and historical factors will change the ways in which global forces impinge on particular societies: prostitution has a different history in Thailand than in, say, Ireland or Paraguay.

Globalization makes it harder and harder to see societies as self-sufficient, or to ignore the ways in which we are all products of exogenous influences, like the Coke bottle which falls from heaven in the South African film The Gods Must Be Crazy and affects everyone in the film. Peter Drucker writes of the idea of “combined and uneven social construction,” arguing that “[d]ifferent indigenous starting points, different relations to the world economy, and different cultural and political contexts can combine to produce very different results. . .It can help us understand how some indigenous forms of sexuality can be preserved within a global economy and culture, changing to a certain extent their forms or functions; how new forms can emerge; and how indigenous and new forms can be combined.”108

Specifically there are a number of contemporary developments which bear on sexuality, all of which are the subject of later chapters: the rapid commodification of sex, the impact of new technologies, the partial globalization of the “sex industry,” the academic discovery of sex as both discourse and field of study, the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the universalizing of certain identities, and the emergence of questions of gender and sexuality as central to contemporary political debates around human rights and international relations. Globalization must be understood as occurring at both discursive and institutional levels, as will be examined in some detail in the discussion of the AIDS epidemic.


1 Roland Robertson, Globalization (London: Sage, 1992), 8.

2 Gilbert Herdt, Third Sex, Third Gender (New York: Zone Books, 1994), 12.

3 Alison Murray, “Femme on the Streets, Butch in the Sheets,” in D. Bell and G. Valentine, eds., Mapping Desire (London: Routledge, 1995), 70.

4 Nancy Fraser, Justice Interruptus (New York: Routledge, 1996), esp. chap. 1, “From Redistribution to Recognition?” 11-39.

5 On social constructionist debates see David Greenberg, The Construction of Homosexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988); Carole Vance, “Social Construction Theory: Problems in the History of Sexuality,” in A. van Kooten Niekerk and T. van der Meer, eds., Homosexuality, Which Homosexuality? (London: Gay Men’s Press, 1989), 13-34.

6 The same sense of the bathhouse as a zone of pleasure is found in Ferzon Ospetek’s 1988 film Hammam, an Italian-Turkish coproduction. Other cultures have created similar erotic spaces out of communal bathhouses. See, e.g., Scott Clark, “The Japanese Bath: Extraordinarily Ordinary,” in J. Tobin, ed., Re-Made in Japan (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992).

7 Michael Ignatieff, “The Temple of Pleasure,” Time Magazine.

8 Beryl Langer, “The Body in the Library,” in L. Dale and S. Ryan, eds., Cross/Cultures: Readings in the Post/Colonial Literatures in English (Amsterdam: Rodopi, 1994), 15-34.

9 New York Times, July 21, 1962, quoted in Charles Kaiser, The Gay Metropolis, 1940-1996 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1997), 80.

10 Gayle Rubin, “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the Political Economy of Sex,” in R. Reiter, ed., Toward an Anthropology of Women (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1975). This and her later article “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality,” in C. Vance, ed., Pleasure and Danger (Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984), 267-319, have had a huge influence on continuing feminist and gay theorizing about sexuality.

11 “Looking for Love,” Far Eastern Economic Review, January 20, 2000, 32.

12 In the 1990s the highest divorce rates were found in European countries in the former Soviet Union (Estonia, Latvia, and Russia). See Joni Seager, The State of Women in the World Atlas (London: Penguin, 1997), 23.

13 And compare Eduardo Archetti, “Playing Styles and Masculine Virtues in Argentine Football,” in M. Melhuus and K. A. Stolen, eds., Machos, Mistresses, Madonnas (London: Verso, 1996), 34-55.

14 Brian Pronger, The Arena of Masculinity: Sports, Homosexuality, and the Meaning of Sex (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990).

15 Kim Berman, “Lesbians in South Africa,” in M. Krouse, ed., The Invisible Ghetto: Lesbian and Gay Writing from South Africa (London: Gay Men’s Press, 1995), xviii.

16 V. Spike Petersen and Jacqui True, “‘New Times’ and New Conversations,” in M. Zalewski and J. Parpart, eds., The “Man” Question in International Relations (New York: Westview, 1998), 25 n. 11.

17 Gary Dowsett and Peter Aggleton, “Young People and Risk-Taking in Sexual Relations,” in Sex and Youth: Contextual Factors Affecting Risk for HIV/AIDS (Geneva: UNAIDS, 1999), 36. The seven countries were Cambodia, Cameroon, Chile, Costa Rica, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, and Zimbabwe.

18 Grace Osakue and Adriane Martin-Hilber, “Women’s Sexuality and Fertility in Nigeria,” in R. Petchesky and K. Judd, eds., Negotiating Reproductive Rights (London: Zed, 1998), 196.

19 Anthony Giddens, “Family,” 1999 BBC Reith Lectures, no. 4 (

20 Gail Pheterson, The Prostitution Prism (Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1996), 24.

21 R. W. Connell, Masculinities (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1995), 77.

22 Marta Lamas, “Scenes from a Mexican Battlefield,” NACLA Report on the Americas, January-February 1998, 17.

23 David Landes, The Wealth and Poverty of Nations (New York: Norton, 1998), 414.

24 Silvana Paternostro, In the Land of God and Man (New York: Dutton, 1998), 308.

25 There is a brief discussion of the meanings of machismo in Marit Melhuus, “Power, Value, and the Ambiguous Meanings of Gender,” in Melhuus and Stolen, Machos, Mistresses, Madonnas, 240-44.

26 Sarah Radcliffe, “Women’s Place in Latin America,” in M. Keith and S. Pile, eds., Place and the Politics of Identity (London: Routledge, 1993), 111.

27 Martha Macintyre, “Melanesian Women and Human Rights,” in A. M. Hilsdon, M. Macintyre, V. Mackie, and M. Stivens, eds., Human Rights and Gender Politics: Asia-Pacific Perspectives (London: Routledge, 2000), 154.

28 Jan Jindy Pettman, Worlding Women (Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 1996), 187.

29 Lillian Ng, Swallowing Clouds (Melbourne: Penguin Books, 1997), 153-54.

30 Richard Parker, Beneath the Equator (New York: Routledge, 1999), 74.

31 Peter Gordon and Kate Crehan, “Dying of Sadness: Gender, Sexual Violence, and the HIV Epidemic,” UNDP HIV and Development Program Paper FF964 (New York: UNDP, 1999).

32 “Migration and HIV,” Newspaper of the XII International AIDS Conference, Geneva, July 2, 1998. See also Vesna Nikolic-Ristanovic, “War and Violence against Women,” in J. Turpin and L. Lorentzen, eds., The Gendered New World Order (New York: Routledge, 1996); Amnesty International, Bosnia-Herzegovina: Rape and Sexual Abuse by Armed Forces (London: Amnesty International, 1993).

33 See Boris Davidovich, Serbian Diaries (London: Gay Men’s Press, 1996).

34 Linda Grant, Sexing the Millennium (New York: Grove, 1994), 5.

35 Nikos Papastergiadis, Dialogues in the Diasporas (London: Rivers Oram, 1998), 149.

36 See Penelope Andrews, “Violence against Women in South Africa,” Temple Political and Civil Rights Law Review 8:2 (1999): 425-57.

37 Graeme Simpson and Gerald Kraak, “The Illusions of Sanctuary and the Weight of the Past: Notes on Violence and Gender in South Africa,” Development Update (Braamfontein) 2:2 (1998): 8.

38 See Jeffrey Alexander, “Modern, Anti, Post, Neo,” New Left Review, March-April 1995, 63-101.

39 Nancy Folbre, “The Improper Arts: Sex in Classical Political Economy,” Population and Development Review 18:1 (1992), 105-21.

40 See, e.g., Rhonada Gottlieb, “The Political Economy of Sexuality,” Review of Radical Political Economics 16:1 (1984): 143-65.

41 I am thinking here in particular of Marcuse’s Essay on Liberation (Boston: Beacon, 1969).

42 Joel Kovel, The Radical Spirit (London: Free Association Books, 1988), 5. Thanks to Robert Reynolds for directing me to Kovel.

43 Michaela di Leonardo and Roger Lancaster, “Gender, Sexuality, Political Economy,” New Politics, summer 1996, 29-43.

44 Pettman, Worlding Women. (I am more inclined than Pettman to see gender as only one axis of inequality.)

45 As Aijaz Ahmad writes: “This reduction of Marxism to an element amongst other elements in the analytics of textual reading means – at the very least, and even where that hostility is less marked – that the problem of the determinate set of mediations which connect the cultural productions of a period with other kinds of productions and political processes, which is one of the central problems of Marxist cultural historiography, is rarely addressed with any degree of rigour in precisely those branches of literary theory where issues of colony and empire are most lengthily addressed” (In Theory [London: Verso, 1992], 5). Compare Nigel Thrift, “The Rise of Soft Capitalism,” in Herod, Tuathail, and Roberts, Unruly World, esp. 26-28; Etienne Balibar, “Has ‘the World’ Changed?” in A. Callari, S. Cullenberg, and C. Biewener, eds., Marxism in the Postmodern Age (New York: Guilford, 1995), 405-14.

46 Diane Nelson, A Finger in the Wound: Body Politics in Quincentennial Guatemala (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 351.

47 See Nancy Fraser, Justice Interruptus, and her “Heterosexism, Misrecognition, and Capitalism: A Response to Judith Butler,” Social Text 52-53 (fall/winter 1997); 279-89.

48 Fraser, Justice Interruptus, 15.

49 Teresa Ebert, Ludic Feminism and After (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1995), 214.

50 Megan Vaughan, “Syphilis in Colonial East and Central Africa: The Social Construction of an Epidemic,” in T. Ranger and P. Slack, eds., Epidemics and Ideas (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), 269-302.

51 E.g., Biliana Vassileva and Milena Komarova, – Young People, Social Relationships, and Sexuality in Bulgaria, – in J.-P. Moatti et al., AIDS in Europe (London: Routelege, 2000) 135-46.

52 “Auto-da-fe,” in Candide, music by Leonard Bernstein, lyrics by Richard Wilbur (final revised version, 1989).

53 R. W. Connell, “Sexual Revolution,” in L. Segal, ed., New Sexual Agendas (London: Macmillan, 1997), 60-76. Compare Edward Lautmann, John Gagnon, Robert Michael, and Stuart Michaels, The Social Organization of Sexuality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994).

54 See “The Condom Controversy,” Asiaweek, January 19, 1994, 30-31.

55 Francis Fukuyama, “Why Japan Has Been Right to Wonder about the Pill,” International Herald Tribune, June 10, 1999.

56 During the 1990s worldwide sales of condoms increased by 15% a year, according to a report by one company. See “Go Forth and Don’t Multiply,” Economist, June 19, 1999, 68. UNAIDS claims there has been considerable success in promoting condoms in a number of poor countries, including Thailand, Senegal, and Uganda.

57 Churnrutai Kanchanchitra, “Income Generation and Reduction of Women Entering Sex Work in Thailand,” paper presented at Meeting on Effective Approaches for the Prevention of HIV/AIDS in Women, Geneva, February 1995.

58 See Ronald Ingelhart, Modernization and Postmodernization (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997), 276-80.

59 Anthony Giddens – Dare to Care, Conserve, and Repair, – New Statesman and Society, October 29, 1994, 18.

60 Don DeLillo, Underworld (London: Picador, 1998), 786.

61 Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha (London: Chatto & Windus, 1997), 153.

62 The word sekuhara has become widely used to mean sexual harassment in Japan. See Yoshio Sugimoto, An Introduction to Japanese Society (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 157.

63 Nicholas Bornoff, Pink Samurai (London: Grafton, 1991), 119-20.

64 Marta Savigliano, “Tango in Japan and the World Economy of Pleasure,” in Tobin, Re-Made in Japan, 237.

65 Jose Quiroga, “Homosexualities in the Tropic of Revolution,” in Balderston and Guy, Sex and Sexuality in Latin America, 134.

66 Marina Warner, No Go the Bogeyman (London: Chatto & Windus, 1998), 363.

67 For a discussion of how reggae has changed as Jamaica has been more effectively incorporated into the “global economy” see Andrew Ross, “Mr. Reggae DJ, Meet the International Monetary Fund,” in Ross, Real Love, (London: Routledge, 1998), 35-70.

68 Neville Hoad, “Arrested Development or the Queerness of Savages,” postcolonial studies 3: 2 (July 2000): 138.

69 Vance, Pleasure and Danger.

70 Jill Julius Matthews, “The ‘Present Moment’ in Sexual Politics,” in R. W. Connell and G. W. Dowsett, eds., Rethinking Sex (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press, 1992), 126.

71 See Christopher Murray and Alan Lopez, Health Dimensions of Sex and Reproduction (Boston: Harvard School of Public Health, 1998).

72 Lenore Manderson and Margaret Jolly, introduction to Sites of Desire, 24.

73 Enloe, Morning After, 104.

74 R. W. Connell, “New Directions in Gender Theory, Masculinity Research, and Gender Politics,” Ethnos 61:3-4 (1996): 175.

75 MacInnes, End of Masculinity, 1.

76 Barbara Ehrenreich, The Hearts of Men: American Dreams and the Flight from Commitment (New York: Doubleday, 1983).

77 Claire Miller, “Women Fight for a Nation Losing Its Hope,” Age (Melbourne), December 12, 1998.

78 Seager, State of Women in the World Atlas, 20-21.

79 Agnes Runganaga and Peter Aggleton, “Migration, the Family, and the Transformation of a Sexual Culture,” Sexualities 1:1 (1998): 73.

80 The Wedding Banquet (1993), directed by Ang Lee; Happy Together (1997), directed by Wong Kar-wai.

81 See Karen Kelsky, “Intimate Ideologies: Transnational Theory and Japan’s ‘Yellow Cabs,'” Public Culture 6 (1994): 465-78.

82 See Janet Hadley, Abortion: Between Freedom and Necessity (London: Vintage, 1996), 15-23, 135.

83 Wan Yan-hai, “Sexual Work and Its Public Policies in China,” paper presented at International Conference on Prostitution, Van Nuys, CA, March 1997. For one overview of the Chinese situation see Borge Bakken, “Never for the First Time: ‘Premature Love and Social Control in Today’s China,'” China Information (Leiden) 7:3 (1992/93).

84 Compare current descriptions of sex in China-e.g., George Wehrfritz, “Unbuttoning a Nation,” Newsweek, April 16, 1996-with Steven Mosher, Broken Earth: The Rural Chinese (New York: Free Press, 1986).

85 National AIDS Committee and UNAIDS, Partnership in Action: HIV/AIDS in Vietnam (Hanoi, 1998), 7.

86 Todd Crowell and Anne Naham, “A Communist Theme Park,” Asiaweek, January 22, 1999, 34-37.

87 These figures were reported at an AIDS conference in 1999. See Daniel Kwan, “HIV Cases to Reach 1.2m. Next Year,” South China Morning Post, February 1, 1999. For one vision of what this might mean see Stephenson, Diamond Age.

88 “STD Rise Highest in Decade,” South China Morning Post Online, May 7, 1999 (

89 Francis Fukuyama, “Asian Values and the Asian Crisis,” Commentary, February 1998, 27.

90 See Julia Suryakusuma, “The State and Sexuality in New Order Indonesia,” in L. Sears, ed., Fantasizing the Feminine in Indonesia (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996), 92-119.

91 David Hill and Krishna Sen, “Rock’n’Roll Radicals,” Inside Indonesia, October-December 1997, 27.

92 See Aihwa Ong, “State versus Islam: Malay Families, Women’s Bodies, and the Body Politic in Malaysia,” in Ong and Peletz, Bewitching Women, Pious Men, 159-94.

93 Anthony Pramualratana, “HIV/AIDS in Thailand,” UNAIDS Position Paper, January 1998.

94 Michel Caraël, Anne Buvé, and Kofi Awusabo-Asare, “The Making of HIV Epidemics: What Are the Driving Forces?” AIDS 11, supp. B (1997): S27.

95 “The Price of Honor,” Time Magazine, January 18, 1999.

96 Karen Thomas, “Women Fight Jordan’s Licence to Kill,” Age (Melbourne), September 8, 1999.

97 See, e.g., Marlise Simons, “Unmarried Mothers Outcasts in Morocco,” International Herald Tribune, February 2, 1999, 2.

98 See, e.g., Sugimoto, Introduction to Japanese Society, 241; Prangtip Daorueng, “Sole Sisters,” Far Eastern Economic Review, September 3, 1998, 36-37.

99 Ruth Adam, A Woman’s Place (London: Chatto & Windus, 1975); Tuula Gordon, Single Women (London: Macmillan, 1994).

100 By the end of the century same-sex relationships enjoyed various forms of legal recognition in about a dozen European countries, mainly in northwest Europe but including the Czech Republic and Catalonia.

101 “Having It Both Ways, B la Francaise,” Economist, September 26, 1998, 60.

102 Rex Wockner, “Canada Defines Marriage Heterosexually,” International News, San Francisco, June 14, 1999.

103 See Jonathan Goldberg-Hiller, “The Status of Status: Domestic Partnership and the Politics of Same-Sex Marriage,” Studies in Law, Politics, and Society 19 (1999): 3-38.

104 Sue Willmer, “Lesbians in Mexico,” in R. Phillips, D. Watt, and D. Shuttleton, eds., Decentering Sexualities (London: Routledge, 2000): 177-8.

105 “Activists Battle to Preserve Constitutional Rights for Sexual Minorities,” International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (San Francisco), Action Alert 7:1 (1999). In various ways sexual orientation has constitutional protection in Canada, South Africa, and Ecuador, in the last case having been introduced after local activists took the South African constitution as a model.

106 National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality, “A Lesbian and Gay Guide to the 1999 Election” (Johannesburg, 1999).

107 Quoted in 8th May Newsletter (London), May 1999.

108 Peter Drucker, “Introduction: Remapping Sexual Identities,” in P. Drucker, ed., Different Rainbows (London: Gay Men’s Press, 2000): 15.

Author: Dennis Altman is Professor of Politics at La Trobe University, Australia. In addition to Global Sex (University of Chicago Press, 2001), from which these sections are excerpted, he has written Defying Gravity (1997, Allen & Unwin), Power and Community: Organizational and Cultural Responses to AIDS (1994, Taylor and Francis), and the seminal Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation (1993/1971, New York University Press). Last year he was co chair of the 6th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific, where he was elected President of the AIDS Society of Asia and the Pacific.

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